13 critical thinking interview questions to use

Last updated:
March 27, 2021
November 30, 2022
min read
Tania Miranda
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If you’re looking to fill a position that requires precise and rational decision-making skills, critical thinking interview questions are an essential component in your interview process.

Many hiring managers overlook this veiled job requirement and skill because it’s not always easily assessed. Some candidates have the technical skills and experience but might not have the emotional intelligence or critical thinking skills to succeed.

That’s where interview questions to assess problem-solving skills can come in handy.

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking is a thought process that allows a person to evaluate and assess information objectively and calculate responses and judgment. Critical thinking can be compared to rash, reactive thought processes which generate immediate and purely emotional responses.

In the workplace, people with critical thinking skills are highly valued as they usually provide rational advice, thought-out solutions, and fair assessments.

It’s tough to establish the level of a candidate’s critical thinking skills unless you specifically look for it during the interview process. Critical thinking interview questions are one of the tools available to hiring managers to gauge how a candidate will handle unpredictable situations that may arise on the job.

Tailored critical thinking interview questions

There are plenty of examples of different types of interview questions available, but your questions must relate to the position and the environment in your company. For example, if the role requires critical decisions on a technical level, the questions must be structured around the relevant skill. If the role requires critical thinking around people (customers or staff), focus on people skills.

There’s a trend to ask brainteaser questions during interviews to measure a candidate’s response, but please don’t go that route. It’s pointless! Asking something like “Jo is one of three children. Her sisters are named May and June. What’s the third child’s name?” is meaningless.

Whether the candidate answers “Jo” correctly or says “probably April” tells you nothing about their critical thinking abilities or anything else.

Apart from potentially making a candidate feel confused and uncomfortable, you could have them questioning how genuine you are.

Plan every step in the recruitment process before the interviews start. If a role needs rational decision-making, a list of critical thinking interview questions must be compiled, preferably by the hiring team rather than just the hiring manager. Collaborative thinking and inclusive staff recruitment allow for different opinions and perspectives of the same role and its requirements.

Ensure that your interview questions are challenging

These questions aren’t intended to be easy. Questions must be thought-provoking. Make the candidate think about how they would respond to and react in specific, tricky situations. You’re not necessarily looking for the right or wrong answers or solutions. Instead, you’re evaluating the candidate’s response rather than skill.

Virtually every department has positions that profoundly impact outcomes for other team members, customers, production, sales, your company brand, etc. Staff who hold these positions require well-developed critical thinking skills.

When compiling your list of interview questions, go way beyond the job skills or experience needed. Analyze what the impact of poor decision making in this role will have on existing staff, customers, your brand, and your business as a whole.

Once you’ve isolated the areas of influence connected to the role, you can start compiling your list of questions. We’re splitting the question examples into technical roles and roles that involve people skills. Your vacancy might be a combination of both. There can never be a template for critical thinking interview questions because each position and company differs, so use these as a guide to inspire you.

Critical thinking interview questions for hard skills

  1. What would you do if you had a looming project/production deadline, but you didn’t yet have all the information/components to deliver on time?
  2. If you’ve figured out a quicker or more cost-effective solution to a problem, but your manager doesn’t get what you’re saying, what would you do?
  3. If there’s a weak link in your team or supply chain that’s impacting productivity, how would you approach the problem?
  4. What would you do if a customer or manager was trying to push a project through at the expense of other projects that already have confirmed delivery dates?
  5. When you’re in a team of specialists, you can easily find differences of opinions on what direction projects should take. How do you find consensus?
  6. Have you ever had to convince a manager to try out a different solution to solve a problem?

Critical thinking interview questions for soft skills

  1.  An order hasn’t been delivered to a customer on time, and they’re furious. They want you to cancel the order and close their account immediately. How would you repair the damage and keep the customer?
  2.  Business has slowed, and you’re in a sales brainstorming session. Someone suggests lowering prices and focusing more on customer satisfaction. What’s your reaction?
  3.  You have an employee who’s excellent at their job, but is blunt and abrasive with colleagues and that’s causing friction in your department. How do you resolve the matter?
  4.  You’re in a meeting, and your manager misquotes pricing or a process that can have a significant impact on your department or a project. What do you do?
  5.  You notice that your manager (or a colleague) is inclined to shift blame and not accept responsibility when under pressure. How do you approach the subject?
  6. If you had to make a decision based on incomplete information, how would you approach this?
  7. How would you handle a situation where you and your teammates disagree on how to move forward on a project?

What are you looking for when asking critical thinking interview questions?

You’ll notice that the issues listed above are very broad and there’s no right or wrong answer or outcome.

  1. What you’re looking for is how the candidate responds. Each question is a hypothetical situation that has the potential to become a big issue if not resolved properly.
  2. People who have high emotional intelligence and developed critical thinking skills won’t give you any old answer. Faced with a complicated situation, their critical thinking will kick in, and they’ll most likely ask you some questions for more clarity. Don’t be surprised if you get an “mmm, I’ll have to think about that…” response initially — people with developed critical thinking process information before reacting or responding.
  3. People who don’t ask for more details, and don’t think before responding, likely don’t have developed analytical skills. They’re also more inclined to poor, emotional decision making.

8 benefits of critical thinkers

Critical thinkers who are capable of unbiased and fair judgment all have the following abilities:

  1. Developed analytical skills: They analyze situations carefully.
  2. Good reasoning skills: They reason in a logical and fact-based way.
  3. Solid emotional perception: They can separate truths from lies and point them out.
  4. Social experience: They conduct further research or fall back on past experiences for reference. They apply known and accepted standards and limit bias.
  5. Comparative analysis: They distinguish between variances and make comparisons.
  6. Solution-oriented thinking: They envision a solution and its potential consequences.
  7. Calculating actions: They quantify their conclusions and take decisive action.
  8. Creative thinking: They convert the situation from a negative to a positive.

This process may be gradual, developing as a situation evolves, or decisions may be made quickly depending on their skill level. Whether they have to think on their feet or address long-standing problems, people with well-developed critical-thinking skills can face a given situation and resolve it in the best way possible. They also don’t hesitate to make unpopular decisions if it’s in the best interest of the company or people involved.

Use all interview and assessment tools available

For crucial positions, you’ll need more than just a list of critical thinking interview questions to establish if a candidate is a good fit for the role. Psychometric assessments can give you more insight into a candidate’s personality.

Past employment references are also an excellent tool to establish how a candidate has handled pressures in similar situations previously. Past behavior can be a predictor of future behavior, but is not foolproof either. As people mature and environments change, so can their attitude and their aptitude in the workplace.

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